Time management: how do I prioritise my 100+ to-dos?09 Apr 2012
The river of tasks is flowing mercilessly and for many it’s growing every day. If you are like most of us, you can never do all the things that you need to do, let alone do all the things you want to do. The only way to manage the madness is to make choices.
You will need to prioritise. In fact, you always prioritise in some kind of way. When you decide to do something, you implicitly decide not to do something else. The trick is to prioritise consciously, rather than letting others or ‘events’ determine what you end up doing.
A question people often ask me is: “How do I set priorities, when there are so many things I have to do?” In our Time Management course we use the well-known Covey matrix to distinguish urgent and important tasks.
We are often ruled by all the ‘events’ coming our way during the day. They can be emails, people coming with requests or for advice, etc. I bet you can name a number of these interruptions that unexpectedly changed the course of your last work day (today?). These ‘events’ are usually urgent, because they demand your immediate attention.
You feel these tasks need to be done right now, and therefore you implicitly feel they are important as well. But here comes a critical time management distinction. Truly important tasks are those that bring you closer to achieving your goals. They are not necessarily the ones that seem to have a need to be solved right now!
Therefore give your tasks and all the events coming your way either the label urgent or not urgent; and important and not important. You end up with a matrix with four quadrants.
When prioritising; you take care of the important and urgent stuff first. Then comes the major time management trick: you then do not move on to the other urgent and not so important tasks. Instead, you block out time for your important but not urgent tasks!
In this important and not so urgent quadrant, you will have activities such as networking and planning for a long term project with no immediate deadlines. It also involves working on prevention; finding out why things go wrong rather than extinguishing fires. At the same time, this quadrant contains time spent on building relationships (but distinguish this from ‘chit-chat’).
Maintaining good health is also an important activity and often it doesn’t feel very urgent.
When you block out time for the important and not so urgent activities, your work will slowly but surely end up with less need to fight fires; e.g. the urgent and important tasks. You will be working ahead of time, rather than trying to make deadlines at the very last minute.
How do you prioritise? Have you ever tried distinguishing tasks in terms of urgency and importance, and if so, how has it worked for you? Please leave some comments below about your experiences, or if you have any questions.